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“In ‘Dream On,’ James Tate writes, ‘Some people go their whole lives/without ever writing a single poem/they sit around the dinner table at night/and pretend as though nothing is missing,’ when even the dog is ‘starving for more poetry in his life,'” says Shoshana Cohen, a senior from Bridgewater, N.J., and a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School. “Tate shows how he holds poetry up so high that he can’t even comprehend how people can live without it in their lives. For Tate, the poem is the experience. This became especially clear to me after having the opportunity to work with him one-on-one. I found his comments on my poetry both honest and insightful.”

Shoshana Cohen and three fellow student poets – juniors Andrew Platt of West Chester, Pa., and Stephen Chiger of Westfield, N.J., and senior Chris Tague of Stamford, Conn. — met individually with . Pulitzer Prize-winning poet JamesTate to discuss their poetry during his recent two-day residency at Lafayette. Tate’s visit also included a welcoming reception and question-and-answer session, a poetry reading, an informal lunch and discussion with creative writing students, and a meeting with the English class “Literary Questions” to discuss his most recent book of poetry, Shroud of the Gnome. The residency was sponsored by the English department through the Closs Fund, established by Fred Closs, a long-time member of the Lafayette English faculty and originator of the College’s Roethke Humanities Festival, in memory of his wife.

“One of the wonderful advantages of going to a small school like Lafayette is not only being afforded the privilege of meeting prominent writers like Tate, but actually being able to sit down and talk with them,” Cohen says. “I strongly believe that my writing and thinking skills have been enhanced by the ‘small class’ atmosphere at Lafayette. I also feel extremely fortunate to have been able to write under the guidance of my adviser, professor Lee Upton, and my EXCEL professor, James Woolley, and to work independently on a novel with professor Ruth Setton.

“Both Upton and Setton have been profound influences on my writing,” Cohen says. Setton, a novelist herself, is advising Cohen on her senior honors thesis, a novel about a 15-year-old Israeli girl coming of age in America while battling anorexia.

Upton, an accomplished poet and critic and the first Lafayette faculty member to hold the title writer-in-residence, says, “For student poets, particularly undergraduates, to work individually with a visiting poet who is a recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award is simply a remarkable opportunity. Our students had the undivided attention of one of America’s foremost poets, a poet who has an international reputation.

“After James Tate worked with students individually, students from the creative writing class read him their own poems in a reading at the Farinon Center,” Upton continues. “As a class these students had the opportunity to be heard by a poet who is a master of the art. To read for such a poet, to be given the gift of his attention, is in itself an honor.”

Cohen, she “writes ambitious and often witty poems that take surprising turns,” Upton says. Cohen was co-winner of Lafayette’s Jean Corrie Poetry Competition in 1997 for “The Evolution of Barbie,” her poem about superficiality of the Barbie doll. Sponsored by the department of English and the Academy of American Poets, the annual Corrie competition is open to first-year students, sophomores, and juniors.

She was a Lafayette Poetry Slam finalist for her spoken word poetry in a competition on campus hosted by the New York Poets in 1996. She has been published in Shofar Magazine, The Newark Star-Ledger, and The Courier-News. She also won first prize in the Bernard-Sless Holocaust Awareness Essay Contest in 1997 for a critical analysis of the life and tragic death of Primo Levi, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Another Side of Shoshana

As an EXCEL Scholar she is working with James Woolley, Lafayette’s Smith Professor of English, coordinator of the Swift Poems Project, which is creating a new edition and an electronic archive of all the poems of 18th-century satirist Jonathan Swift. For the second time she is managing editor of The Marquis, Lafayette’s annual magazine of original literary works by students. She has performed in the annual Lafayette Fringe Festival for creative arts since 1996. In addition, Cohen is a member of the College’s Hillel Society.

Categorized in: Academic News